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The Growth of Learning Communities in Undergraduate Medical Education

Smith, Sunny MD; Shochet, Robert MD; Keeley, Meg MD; Fleming, Amy MD; Moynahan, Kevin MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000239
Research Reports

Purpose: To determine the presence and characteristics of learning communities (LCs) in undergraduate medical education.

Method: The authors updated an earlier Web-based survey to assess LCs in medical education. Using a cross-sectional study design, they sent the survey to an LC leader or dean at each Association of American Medical Colleges member medical school (n = 151) between October 2011 and March 2012. The first survey item asked respondents to indicate if their institution had LCs. Those with LCs were asked to provide details regarding the structure, governance, funding, space, curricular components, extracurricular activities, and areas addressed as part of the LCs. Those without LCs were asked only if they were considering developing them. The full survey instrument contained 35 items including yes/no, multiple-choice, and open-ended questions. The authors analyzed data using descriptive statistics and examined open-ended responses for recurrent themes.

Results: The response rate was 83.4% (126/151). Sixty-six schools (52.4%) had LCs. Of the 60 remaining schools without LCs, 29 (48.3%) indicated that they were considering creating them. Of the 52 schools that provided the year their LCs were established, 27 (51.9%) indicated they began in 2007 or later. LC characteristics varied widely.

Conclusions: The number of medical schools with LCs is increasing rapidly. LCs provide an opportunity to transform medical education through longitudinal relationships and mentoring. Further study is needed to document outcomes and best practices for LCs in medical education.

Dr. Smith is associate clinical professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, San Diego, California.

Dr. Shochet is assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Keeley is assistant dean for student affairs and associate professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Dr. Fleming is director of medical student education, college mentor, and associate professor, Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Moynahan is associate professor and deputy dean for education, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, Arizona.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: This study was certified as exempt by the University of California, San Diego, institutional review board (project no. 111276XX).

Previous presentations: An earlier version of this study was presented at the Association of American Medical Colleges Learning Communities Institute, November 4, 2011, Denver, Colorado.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Smith, 9500 Gilman Dr. #0696, La Jolla, CA 92093-0696; telephone: (858) 534-6160; e-mail: sdsmith@ucsd.edu.

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges